Book: The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity
Chapter: 10. Religious Knowledge and Models of Authority in Sixth-Century Gaza
Religious instruction in the polis of Gaza and its surroundings is very well documented for the first half of the sixth century. We possess a large number of texts which disseminate to a mixed audience of laypeople knowledge about the Bible and Christian doctrine and discuss questions of pious conduct. Intriguingly, religious instruction was given by figures of different status and in widely different settings, but in all likelihood addressed the same audiences. In the vicinity of Gaza, two recluses were regularly approached by townspeople on matters of everyday life, but also on doctrinal controversies; the answers were given only in written form. Within the polis, secular teachers, the sophists of the local school, occasionally touched upon religious topics in front of gatherings of the civic community. This chapter first analyses these different settings of dissemination of religious knowledge, the types of knowledge, the participants and the types of discourse. It then differentiates between two models of authority and relates them to the teaching settings. The analysis demonstrates that the dissemination of religious knowledge was embedded in the traditional polis culture, rather than being treated as a separate domain, and that religious instruction was not confined to religious functionaries and specialists.